New Microsoft app platform chief takes reins

Guggenheimer touts Nov. 7 product rollout

Steve Guggenheimer is the new general manager of Microsoft's Application Platform Development & Marketing group, which focuses on application platform strategy and markets the company's development tools, the SQL Server database and BizTalk Server business process integration software. Upgrades to all three of these product lines will be officially launched at a gala event in San Francisco on Nov. 7. A Microsoft official since 1993, Guggenheimer previously held roles in the company's Small and Midmarket Solutions & Partners Group, Microsoft's U.K. subsidiary and the Windows for Workgroups organization. He also participated in marketing major Windows releases. In an interview with InfoWorld Editor at Large Paul Krill at Microsoft's Mountain View, Calif. Offices last week, Guggenheimer offered perspective on the Nov. 7 rollout and other issues.

Guggenheimer: One of the things that I think that businesses are looking for is how do we build applications and use the technology [that we have] in our organizations to better [make decisions]. There was a recent study that said 77 percent of [senior executives are aware of IT people] making bad decisions. So one [project is about] helping people make better decisions faster, [and using] technology [to] do that. [But] there’s so many different back ends, how do you just connect the systems and keep [it all in] place?  Five years ago, we started [by making] a bet on a data standard, [which is] XML. Then you make a bet on the transport, [which is] Web services, and then you build an API, which is .Net and you use .Net to make a sort of a service-oriented architecture within the organization. There are many companies either have moved to or are in the process of moving to service-oriented architecture within their organization.  And for us, that’s based on the .Net platform, that’s based on Windows Server 2003. A year ago, there was a study [that said] about 56 percent of companies are using .Net as their development platform and about 90-plus percent are actually trying it in some way or another within the organization. So we’ve made progress. I think a lot of companies have made progress.

InfoWorld: Do you think the people at Sun would agree with that 56 percent number?

Guggenheimer: It was a Forrester study, so we could pull the data out. I mean I don’t know whether Sun would agree with it or not.

InfoWorld: Did Microsoft fund the study?

Guggenheimer: No, it was not one of our funded studies. We can get you the study. That one’s over a year old now. So I think we have made good progress there, people do use the technology. With the release of these three products together, SQL Server 2005, BizTalk Server 2006 and Visual Studio 2005, they [are] released actually as part of our overall set of products we offer for the application platform. One of the things we work hard on at doing at Microsoft is ensuring that the APIs we have and the technologies and the products work well together in support of building and running and managing applications. And so for us the application platform is all the things we build that enable a company to use and run their own applications. On the server side of the house, the Windows Server System, we do a lot of work to make sure they work well together. When it comes to management, we use the Windows management interfaces for development and we use the management console for plugging in, so you can manage them in the same way. They’re developed in the same way, so when you want to write code to them you can write code to them in the same way, via the APIs and the Common Language Runtime because they run in the same fashion. An application built will run in the same fashion. We look at security in a holistic manner so we can do security in a common way. There’s a lot of things we do within the Windows server family to try to make those things easier to develop applications for and to manage. With these three releases, BizTalk, SQL Server and Visual Studio, we worked really hard on connecting systems together, to better connect people to the information they need and in conjunction with the processes an organization will use.

InfoWorld: There was something I saw about Microsoft releasing a new version of Visio for architects and InfoPath VSTO toolkit.

Guggenheimer: Visual Studio for Office is part of the overall Visual Studio family, but I don’t know about Visio, I honestly couldn’t answer it. So, with Visual Studio now, another [customer] organization is a large organization with hundreds of thousands of people. They are basically made up of a bunch of different companies. And the processes or the systems they use to run some of those companies are different, because they were purchased at different times. But they want to use similar processes. One of the things they do is they use BizTalk for their process engine, to be able to have the same process, but map it to different systems in different parts of their organization. And one of the things that BizTalk does is [provide] the connectivity for interoperability, so it has the adapters to go out to other systems. So there’s another example of BizTalk and Visual Studio being used together. So overall, one of the things we’ve tried to do is bring the data component or the information component and the process component into the overall development of applications, now building on top of the connected system’s infrastructure.

InfoWorld: And that’s all in this new release of these three products?

Guggenheimer: That’s correct. And if you looked at the next wave of products, in the Vista timeframe and Office 12 and what they do in Dynamics, a lot of that then is around, what do I get at the individual user level? [It's about] role-based or personal productivity for specific users within an organization. So if you think about the waves we’ve been releasing, the first wave with .Net and Windows Server 2003 was all about connecting systems. This wave is around bringing information and process into the discussion with connected systems and hooking that in. And then the next wave is really around the individual productivity and what users get at their level, whether it’s within an app like the Dynamics apps or within Office 12.

InfoWorld: Who’s the keynote speaker at the launch event?

Guggenheimer: The keynote speaker in San Francisco is CEO Steve Ballmer. This is the largest server tools launch we’ve ever had, and by far the largest community participation we’ve ever had in a launch.

InfoWorld: I understand that this is the first major upgrade for these three products in as long as five years, for SQL Server specifically. Are there going to be shorter release times for the next major releases?

Guggenheimer: I can’t comment on the timelines for the future right now. We try to [determine] what customers want in any given release, and the amount of time that takes, and [the time] varies. Sometimes [delivery cycles are] shorter and sometimes they’re longer.

InfoWorld: Why was this one so long, especially with Visual Studio delayed two or three times?

Guggenheimer: You know, SQL Server’s the one that’s the longest [since its last release], and part of the reason that took a little longer is we added a lot of functionality. The three things that we talked about, one is the scalability. [We are] really sort of going to enterprise-grade capabilities. There’s a lot of testing required to make sure we get that right. Two is adding the business intelligence, that’s a key piece of work. And three, getting the integration right between Visual Studio and SQL Server, for example, adding the CLR capabilities into SQL, they’re just big pieces of work.  And so this was a big release in essence, and it took longer. That doesn’t mean the next one would be as big, they vary release to release.

InfoWorld: What’s been the reception to the new products on MSDN (Microsoft Developer Network) so far?

Guggenheimer: Very good. I can’t give you the download numbers, but I was looking at them earlier but people are excited and are downloading very quickly the products.

InfoWorld: Visual Studio has the application lifecycle management component with Team System. How critical is it for Microsoft to be in this market, and how do you differentiate yourselves from companies like IBM, Rational and Borland?

Guggenheimer: I think if you look at Microsoft, I mean a large percentage of the world’s population of developers has been using Microsoft tools for a long time, and so the logical question or the thing they’ve been asking for is -- how do you get to the lifecycle [part]?  How do you not just have professional developers, but have the right capabilities for architects or testers and connect them together?  And so I think this is just an extension of being a creator of developer tools and building the world class leading developer tools in request from our customers. How does it compare to Rational?  I forgot, you said Rational and who else did you say?

InfoWorld: IBM/Rational, being one, and then Borland.

Guggenheimer: And Borland being the other. It’s interesting. Borland’s still a partner for us. They’re still one of our development partners, so it’s a good example where we’re doing some new things, but at the same time we maintain partnerships. And then relative to Rational, I think one of the things we’ve worked hard on is developing a set of products that work well together to enable customers to build applications, and so I think we’ll compete very well with Rational in terms of the technology itself. But more importantly, I think one of the things we try to do is enable companies to build and manage and run and deploy applications better, and we do that by making these things work well together.  Which is a little different from IBM that has bought lots of pieces, and they basically sell a lot of services.  But it’s a different model.

InfoWorld: With SQL Server, Microsoft has been pretty open about the new features in there. You have the same issue that DB2 and IBM and Oracle have: how do you compete with free open source databases that are out there such as MySQL? 

Guggenheimer: Well, we have our SQL Server Express product.  For the free database capabilities we have an Express offering which meets the capabilities of a lot of entry-level systems relative to what enterprise customers are looking for. If free was the criteria, Oracle wouldn’t have the business they have, right?  Part of the reason Oracle has the revenue it has -- though they were a little flat this last quarter -- in growth over time is because people really want a trusted platform provider. Someone that doesn’t just provide software, but provides the support, the services, has the reputation. And that’s one of the things we work very hard at and one of the things we’re providing with this release of SQL Server. So free doesn’t always equal free in terms of cost of the overall management and implementation of any piece of software, whether it be a database or whether it be an operating system.

InfoWorld: Now, what does Visual Studio do for you as far as Eclipse and Java as rivals?

Guggenheimer: Again, it’s part of the overall family of technologies that we have. I think relative to Eclipse, Eclipse provides some good things in the community for open source that allows them to have a development environment.  We believe we have a more rich and full-featured environment, the number of developers who have been using the technology is there. We do work very hard with our community. If you look at our VSIP (Visual Studio Integration Partners) program, in terms of the partner-based supporting Visual Studio, it’s been growing, and we continue to learn from all community efforts that go on in terms of how we can improve our work.

InfoWorld: What’s the critical advantage in BizTalk Server 2006 and how does BPEL (Business Process Execution Language) 2.0 play into that?

Guggenheimer: I’d start overall with the category. One of the things that I think is happening relative to a lot of development in companies is the notion or the understanding of using process or thinking about process as part of the overall application development. I think large organizations, if you look at transactional-based businesses, have used processes for a long time. In today’s world, the IT departments will ask the business owners to make sure you have your global processes well defined first, so that we can adapt more quickly if you need. And in that way, more companies are looking at process as part of the development lifecycle with the business. And BizTalk and that category of products is providing that capability and spreading out to include not just the interactions on a technology level, but interactions on the human level in terms of workflow. That’s why I think BizTalk is becoming more important and more people are asking about it relative to the other areas because it’s scaling down out of really just the very highest in enterprise applications into other areas. The other thing BizTalk provides is interoperability.

InfoWorld: Is BizTalk Server 2006 going to [comply] with BPEL 2.0?

Guggenheimer: I’d have to get back to you on that.  I’m pretty sure we do, but off the top of my head I don’t remember all the standards for all the products.

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